November 22, 2017

The Poor Are Being Barred From Voting...

Or are they....?

Today I spotted an interesting blog post from Robert Reich, who "served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century." Said blog post has also been picked up by Newsweek and posted on Yahoo.

THIS blog post, entitled variously "The New Poll Tax" (blog) and "The Poor Are Being Barred From Voting. And That’s Unconstitutional..." is in serious need of Fisking.

So, let's see here. Reich states that there are several ways that the poor are being disenfranchised. Each one deserves a closer look. But before I do so, a couple comments.

I would say initially that Reich compares various laws to the poll tax, outlawed by the 24th Amendment. That Amendment states:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
In what follows, Reich is not really arguing that there is any actual tax imposed, as far as I can see. However, the Supreme Court stated in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections:
It is argued that a State may exact fees from citizens for many different kinds of licenses; that if it can demand from all an equal fee for a driver's license, it can demand from all an equal poll tax for voting. But we must remember that the interest of the State, when it comes to voting, is limited to the power to fix qualifications. Wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one's ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process.  Lines drawn on the basis of wealth or property, like those of race  are traditionally disfavored. To introduce wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a voter's qualifications is to introduce a capricious or irrelevant factor.  The degree of the discrimination is irrelevant.  In this context -- that is, as a condition of obtaining a ballot -- the requirement of fee paying causes an "invidious" discrimination that runs afoul of the Equal Protection Clause.  Levy "by the poll..." is an old familiar form of taxation; and we say nothing to impair its validity so long as it is not made a condition to the exercise of the franchise. Harper v. Va. State Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 668-69, 86 S. Ct. 1079, 1082 (1966)
Other cases interpreting the 24th Amendment have held:
It is unconstitutional to force a citizen to "either pay a poll tax or file a certificate of residence six months prior to the election." Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528, 543, 85 S. Ct. 1177, 1186 (1965).
Outside of the 24th Amendment, the Supreme Court has also held that governments may not force people to waive constitutional rights in exchange for benefits.

With that said, there is also language in the 14th Amendment that states that the right to vote may not  be in "any way abridged" except for a voter who participates in "rebellion, or other crime." The Supreme Court interpreted this in the case of Richardson v. Ramirez to hold that this did not prevent a state from denying a convicted felon the right to vote, even if the felon had otherwise finished their sentence. 

So, while there may be no actual tax to be paid at the poll, what I suspect that Reich is doing here is arguing that these laws become a defacto way of introducing unconstitutional "wealth or property" tests for voting, and perhaps, since felons are often required to pay fines or fees as a condition of completing their punishment, they cannot vote for long periods in some states even if the right to vote is restored to felons who have otherwise finished their punishment.

In his post, Reich first argues:
In nine states, Republican legislators have enacted laws that disenfranchise anyone with outstanding legal fees or court fines. For example, in Alabama more than 100,000 people who owe money – roughly 3 percent of the state’s voting-age population – have been struck from voting rolls. 
Reich says that Alabama is one example, and that there are 8 other states that do so. He does not give an example of the laws in question, nor name the other states in which this occurs. But where are the laws that do this? I have not located any information which indicates that there are 9 states who condition voting on the payment of fines and fees outside of payment of fines and court fees for felonies committed. In these states, restoration of voting rights is specifically conditioned on repayment of fines and fees.

And, in fact, the Washington Post featured an article on November 8, 2016 entitled "These people have been barred from voting today because they’re in debt." In that article, the authors feature an interview with a woman from Alabama who cannot vote, and who says:
Forty-eight-year-old Treva Thompson won’t be voting on Election Day. It’s not that she’s turned off by the choice of candidates. It’s that she can’t. She owes around $8,000 in fines and fees, plus more than $30,000 in victim restitution related to her felony theft conviction in 2005. And she’d have to pay it all off before starting the process to have her voting rights restored. A herculean task, she explains, because she often doesn’t “even have money to get gas to go look for a job.” Speaking for individuals with criminal histories and debt, Thompson says: “We shouldn’t lose our rights as if we’re nothing.”
So, as I suspected, this is less of an issue with a poll tax and more of an issue of whether felons with debts and restitution payments can be denied the right to vote for failure to complete a felony. It's not necessary to go to "poll tax," which is very different and unconstitutional from denying felons the right to vote, which IS constitutional. There is an in-depth study here, which discusses the issue more in-depth.

However, I am still not quite sure to which laws Reich is referring. For instance, he says that:
Preventing people from voting because they owe legal fees or court fines muzzle low-income Americans at a time in our nation’s history when the rich have more political power than ever.
But also says: "These state laws are another form of voter suppression – like...bars on anyone with felony convictions from voting." This is curious, because I haven't been able to find information on fines or fees unrelated to criminal actions causing inability to vote. I would be interested in more information from Reich as to what laws he's referring to...

November 17, 2017

Jessica Chastain...

Is NOT happy that Amazons in the Justice League movie are (apparently) wearing less than they did in Wonder Woman.

Nor is, for the Yahoo! record, is Melissa Silverstein.

I really, REALLY, hate the "you hypocrite" argument; I don't normally make it, myself. But, could it be that there is, I don't know, some jealousy at the success of superhero movies, or perhaps some feeling that "When I do female nude, it's necessary to the plot, but when your Amazons dress more scantily, it's a...step backward?"

Let me see here.

I ran some searches and (with a NSFW) warning, I discovered that:

Jessica Chastain has done 3 - 4 movies in which she has appeared entirely nude, and several others with skimpy clothing. Perhaps she would say that this is artistic choice. But, really, she's done her bit for nudity on screen. And now she's concerned about Amazons?

Enough with Chastain.

Melissa Silverstein states:
Ms. Silverstein is the founder of the Women & Hollywood page / blog / movement, which
"Educates, Advocates, and Agitates for greater gender diversity in Hollywood and the global film industry." Sounds laudable. For those who are wondering, the "male gaze" vs "female gaze" thing can be found here.

Summarily, Ms. Silverstein attributes the differences in costumes between "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League" (with the latter being more skimpy) to the difference between female director Patty Jenkins, of Wonder Woman, and male director Zack Snyder, of Justice League.

She also said, based on responses to the above tweet:
So, can we take away from this that Ms. Silverstein is interested in de-sexualizing cinema? I say "BRAVO." I'm in total agreement that this should happen, from casting couch to the screen, male or female directors.

This doesn't mean, however, that one can state that women are sexualized only by male directors, but female directors can proceed with impunity, right?

Ms. Silverstein states that she "loved" the first "SMILF" episode, and is excited about another. Strangely, SMILF features at least a few scenes of nudity and sex. I don't see that Ms. Silverstein called them out for that. But then, these are female directors. Perhaps this was an oversight on her part. Let's see...
Referring to Hedy Lamarr, whom Ms. Silverstein lauds (rightly) as an inventor and actress. And yet, Lamarr also was one of the earlier progenitors of frontal nudity and portrayal of orgasms on film. But, she is excused because she was otherwise a great actress who was a brilliant inventor.

Oh, and then there's Grey's Anatomy, of which Ms. Silverstein says:
This is the same Grey's Anatomy which features (on ABC) guys fantasizing about women making out in a shower, a woman jumping up and down on a bed in lingerie, and assorted other scenes.

Ms. Silverstein's website also seems to be quite excited about television shows and movies which star or are directed by women, and feature sexualized nudity.

So, is this simply another instance of "So long as my people do it, it's okay, but if it's your people, you're 'male gazing' and 'sexualizing?'"

November 13, 2017

The Christian Idea Has...

...Not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult; and left untried.

Today, I am moved to write briefly about this article, entitled "I'm Catholic and Didn't Get Married in a Church For This Reason."

I fully expected that the article would reference problems with the Church's teachings on sexuality, on marriage, on children, etc. This would be de rigeur among writers on Yahoo!, or any of its linked sites (in this case, "Style Me Pretty"), and likely, among many bloggers. However, I was initially somewhat surprised to see her claim that it was all about money.

You see, the church this author initially contacted (red flag!) asked $1,200 for the use of the church. And, the author notes, "from there, our options got less and less attractive." Presumably this means that other churches charged more.

End of story, right? Money-grubbing Catholics? Seems like it. Being Catholic myself, I found this a bit shocking. Catholic churches, charging people huge sums to get married?

When reading the story, however, something became very obvious: This is a collision between the world of identity politics, "tradition," and the world of lived faith and pragmatism.

The author, a "Ximena N. Larkin" (website here, if this is the same person) reveals as follows during her brief sketch (I've fisked it for your convenience):
[W]e were both raised Catholic. Up until high school, he attended a Catholic private school. And I started every Sunday with mass and then picked a Catholic university....There was no way around it. We were engulfed in religion.
Given what follows, perhaps "[w]e had been engulfed in religion" would be more accurate.
It was the primary reason we were even considering incorporating the ritual in our wedding day. Even though during our two-year relationship, and one-year engagement we had never attended mass as a couple, we felt like it was something we had to do.
AH HAH! SO THAT'S IT. A two-year relationship and one-year engagement and never attended Mass as a couple. Yet you were both Catholic. Seems like you were awash in nostalgia and identity, not "engulfed in religion."
I was shocked to discover our first pick required a $1,200 mandatory donation for 45-minute use of the church (more than 10 times the cost of our wedding venue for the evening). 
Now already had a wedding venue reserved, and NOW you're calling around for churches? Did the desire to get married in the Church come from within you, or was it something that parents or grandparents mentioned and you decided to give it the ol' college try for them?

I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that, if you're a member of a parish, the charge to use the parish is free, or nearly so. However, if you're just calling around for a venue, they charge because it makes it less attractive to church shoppers. As I look around the internet, it seems some churches do charge for the venue due to costs inherent in a wedding and the use of the facilities. Some churches offer to waive the fee if the couple are parishioners and cannot afford it, and also offer free convalidations during weekday Mass.

And THEN, towards the end of this article, we read the following revelatory statements:
The church had played no part in our relationship. We honored and respected the traditions held by family and friends, but realized we had to make a choice between what we 'should do' and what was right for us. For us, that meant promising to honor, love and respect each other every day. A pledge requiring work from both parties and not a religious deity to do the heavy lifting for us.
[Oh, RIGHT...that's what getting married in a church means? You get GOD to do the work and rest on your laurels? BULLS**T.]
Family members still ask if one day I'll get married by the church. Being Mexican and Catholic is part of my identity so the answer is yes. One day it'll happen when we're ready, not when someone tells us to.
So, wait...was all the money stuff a serious argument? Or did you reject a Church wedding because someone told you you had to? Or because you didn't believe in the first place? Why not have a free or nearly-free convalidation done and call it good?

This is identity politics and smear in equal part and parcel. Religion when I feel like it, when it may be important to me feeling "Mexican" enough, or to show our children what it's like, or whatever.

But let's not pretend that "we couldn't afford" to get married in the Church. You didn't care about Faith at the time you got married, except as a sort of cultural crustation and a vague desire to please someone else in your life. If you simply want to say you'd fallen away from the Faith and didn't care about religion any longer, own it. You are engaged in deceiving yourself and others regarding the real reason why you didn't get married in the Church.